Many of us get frustrated with manufacturer-produced Android launchers. One big reason why Nexus fans have such a strong fan-base is because they come with the pure, stock Android OS. When Android is left to be Android, it’s the fastest and smoothest experience.
On the other hand, although Android has evolved quite nicely, there are still a multitude of features that it should have (dual-window, customizable navigation buttons, theming, and not to mention that the Android camera software is still a step behind).
Motorola seems to have the right idea, by throwing features on top of stock Android. If you welcome that kind of philosophy, we have a good suggestion – Launcher X.
Launcher X takes that approach you love, by staying true to stock Android but enhancing it with really useful features. Today, we’re reviewing the in’s and out’s of this promising launcher. It brings a ton to the table, so let’s get to it!
*This review is for the full version of Launcher X. Free use of the launcher has some features locked out.
The core design of Launcher X follows in stock Android’s footsteps – which means that you’ll be presented with a simplistic, Material Design UI from the bat.
At first look, an unsuspecting user may think “What’s the big deal?”. But poke around a bit and you’ll see. For instance, if you long-press on an app, you’ll see a neat menu pop up.
Launcher X lets you edit the app details (text or icon) or assign gestures to it, called “Swipes”. As implied, you can add up/down swipes to an app’s icon for different functions: open an app, shortcuts, and even widgets.
There’s another cool, unique feature that Launcher X incorporates into the Android panel controls (that you access by long-pressing on any empty space). Feast your eyes on live weather animations on the desktop.
These animations are not just like live wallpapers. Launcher X takes it a step further and makes them even more immersive (notice in the image above how the snow accumulates on the icons and the bottom of the screen). You can choose from several different weather conditions.
I had a lot of fun with this setting. I’d be neat if the developer has the weather animation automatically change based on your area’s real weather conditions – one of my top requests for future updates.
One last interesting thing about the UI is a slide out panel when you swipe from the left edge of the screen.
The options are pretty simple here. You have another way to get to your phone’s controls on top. You’ll see a list of your recent apps and any apps that you assign as favorites. And the last thing shows you the phone’s current RAM memory usage, along with a cleanup button if you notice that your system is getting bogged down.
Customization is the bread and butter of Launcher X. If you enjoy tweaking your device’s software then listen up. There are TONS of things you can modify in this launcher. Upon opening Launcher X’s settings, we get a layout of everything you can mess with. Let’s go over the highlights.
Before we get into details on the vast array of options, I want to point out that you’ll see a green “+” button floating on the bottom right corner. It may helpful to know that the launcher’s settings has a search function (under all the pre-defined shortcuts) that lets the user search for a particular option.
Throwing in so much functionality is a double-edge sword. It gives the user tons to work with but can mean that you need to dig around to find what you’re interested in. So it’s considerate that the developer included a search.
The Desktop settings control things the user sees and interacts within the Android panels. You have desktop controls for: the layout, management, status bar, scrolling, and widgets.
Typically launchers give you options to change desktop grid allotment (so the user can determine how many icons can be in a panel) and scrolling transitions (different animations when scrolling through panels), but Launcher X goes a step further many times. For instance, you can actually change the aspects of icons within their space in the grid.
The padding settings reduce the space between items on the screen (icons or widgets). For some little touches, you can change the type and color of the persistent Google search bar, the status bar (or hide it), and even the panel indicators.
Also, you know how the Google Launcher has access to Google Now on the far left panel? What if you wanted to go to an app instead? With the “Enable swipe to open application” setting you can set an app to launch when you swipe from left to right (and then go back to the launcher with the opposite motion).
The Drawer settings refer to the app drawer. One might underestimate how much customization can be done here, leave it to Launcher X to show us the way.
You’ll of course be able to change the icon grid (this way user can control how many apps are shown at once) and the swiping transition animation, but also the icon layout within its space in the grid. Also, if you don’t like the stock drawer style, you can change the grid to move vertically or make the apps display in a list format.
One particularly neat feature is the Side drawer. When you toggle this setting and swipe from the left edge on desktop, a panel will slide out with a list of all your apps. They’re laid out in alphabetical order, in which you can quickly scroll to the one you’re looking for.
*Some functions can indeed overlap. For instance, I found that the “Enable swipe to open application” function fights with the Side Drawer feature (because you swipe from the left to activate both). I also found that these kind of settings can override the Side Bar (shortcut slide-out panel).
There’s a couple options to improve efficiency. Under Drawer groups, you can choose which apps to hide from the app drawer, and group apps into either tabs or folders of your choosing.
The Dock category refers to those favorite icons you’ve chosen to live on the bottom of the screen (that surround the app drawer button).
We find similar icon customizations that we’ve seen in other areas, such as number of icons, icon layout, and padding control. There is more we can do though. For instance, you can add a background style to the dock (four types: Platform, Rectangle, Round Rectangle, and Arc), with control over the backgrounds color and transparency.
You also don’t have to have just one dock icon set. Select the Dock pages option to add more sets (swipe through them).
Recall that default slide-out panel that contains shortcuts (accessed by swiping from the left edge of the desktop). That’s what the customization in this section handles.
You’ll be able to change the background color and the quick apps. Also, you can set the panel to be able slide out from any screen.
Folders are important in Android, they help us be organized. Here, you’ll be able to add your own little touches to these useful tools.
If the default max of the amount of apps in a folder isn’t enough, that can be changed here. Aspects of the folders can also be tweaked, such as the pop-out animation, background color, preview appearance, and layout of the icons. Swipe indicator refers to the little image that Launcher X tacks on to app or folder icons when you assign a swiping function to them.
Theme & UI
While this feature may sound like a theming engine to drastically change the appearance of the overall UI, “theme” here actually refers to the icon pack.
Clicking on Icon theme gives you two options: System or Lollipop icons. I do wish that a library of icon packs was included in the launcher. Android enthusiasts like changing up icon collections, as it can really define a look.
While Launcher X doesn’t have a theming engine, it’s good to know that it can do color extraction based on your wallpaper. This means that in settings where you can change the color of things (persistent search bar, status bar, app drawer, sidebar, folder background), you’ll be able to match your wallpaper’s color palette via different shades of the base color that the api recognizes.
The other options here deal with UI transitions. The scroll and animation speeds are self explanatory (you can speed up or slow down the movements). Screen orientation may be handy for folks who want to force the desktop to go landscape (it doesn’t natively). You can also change the animation by which apps launch on the screen (there’s a neat phase in/out animation called Blink).
Now this one is an interesting customization. Launcher X actually lets you tweak the unread counts that pop up on the icons of certain apps (i.e. unread emails). There is surprisingly a lot you can do, such as the position of the counter on the icon, the size of the number, and the style.
Additionally, the user can control to turn on/off the unread counts for apps that support them.
Gestures & Buttons
Launchers typically have a library of gestures that you can define and use for efficiency of your common tasks. Launcher X is no exception. You can make definitions for pinching, swiping, double tapping, rotating, and multi-finger motions.
What’s more, you can double up the Home button for a quick one-two action. It will still take you to the desktop, but also execute another function of your choosing. If you find that a little annoying, you can have the secondary Home button function activate only when you’re on the desktop.
The Advanced has system controls for the launcher, such as resetting all the options to default states or the ability backup/restore your settings.
One cool feature is that you can save a little time in switching to Launcher X by importing your desktop layout from another launcher.
You’ve seen now that Launcher X is a wallop of a launcher. It does have to compete with the likes of other renowned launchers that offer many of the same capabilities (Nova, Action, Apex), but there are some key features that differentiate Launcher X. I appreciated all the ways that you can incorporate gestures (i.e. swipes on icons for different functions or on the screen to launch an app). And the desktop weather animations are pretty rad.
Launcher X works smoothly and the layout to enable things is thought-out and refined. You can’t go wrong with a launcher that adds this much value on top of Material Design.